Mirai brings Disney-like surrealism back to animated family films

In Mirai, a toddler inexplicably travels through time and space as a means to understand the importance of family. It’s a cool premise for an all-ages animated film that feels on-brand with writer-director Mamoru Hosoda, who previously brought us Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Mirai‘s titular character also leaps backwards through time to confront her brother Kun, paving the way for a worthwhile fantasy journey.

Mum’s away all the time winning the bread and dad struggles to juggle his tasks as the stay-at-home parent, causing tiny Kun to feel left out. As a result, he becomes a brat to his newborn sister Mirai, who seems to get ALL the attention, and the film does a rock-solid job showing the range of emotions behind his behaviour.

When the film dips its toes into wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff, it’s a bit of a slog at first. Scenes spent with Kun’s personified dog and teen sister from the future largely consist of living room shenanigans more suited to Disney channel live-action TV with a laugh track than cinematic animation for kids.

Fortunately, the journey quickly gets a lot more fantastical both visually and narratively. As Kun’s emotions get stronger, the story becomes more surreal, weaving seemingly random locations with meaningful moments in his family’s history. One minute, Kun’s thrashing through an ocean of fish. The next, he’s on a motorbike with his badass grandpa. These adventurous sequences don’t follow any particular logic, which puts audiences of any age right in Kun’s tiny shoes as he struggles to make sense of these confusing changes in his life.

Animation has the unique ability to present surrealism to kids, right from the early days where Disney paraded pink elephant in front of families. It’s great to see Mirai keeping this tradition alive and with purpose, not just by travelling time and space, but by turning Kun’s family tree into a fantastical world of its own.